Joy

David O. Russell’s best films are the ones that touch you emotionally, like Joy does. It is not always easy to cheer for a movie character, but Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) inspires audience hopes and dreams. She is an empowered woman.

The characters who populate Joy’s world add life and humanity to Joy. Her father Rudy (Robert DeNiro) moves in with Joy when his second wife dumps him. Joy puts him in her basement where he has to share digs with Joy’s ex-husband Tony (Edgar Ramirez). Her mother (Virginia Madsen) spends most of each day perched in her bed watching soap operas. Grandma Mimi (Diane Ladd) is the film’s narrator.

Rudy finds a new girlfriend, Trudy (Isabella Rossellini). When Joy mops up spilled wine on her Trudy’s boat, she gets glass shards in her hands. This leads the clever Joy to make her own mop that she can wring out without touching it. Soon, she is making the “Miracle Mops” in dad’s garage and selling them wherever she can.

Trudy, a widow whose husband left money behind, helps Joy fund her company so she can make the mops. Joy’s big break comes when the fledgling QVC channel agrees to sell the mops. QVC honcho Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper) tells Joy to prepare to deliver 50-thousand mops. But the segment is a mop flop.

She convinces Walker to let her do the segments herself. A friend conspires to call in and tout the product. Sales skyrocket.

But more trouble awaits as suppliers try to take advantage of her. And a man who claims to have registered a similar product wants royalties for each sale. Joy faces the challenges head on and emerges triumphant.

The only thing about the story that’s baffling is Joy’s lack of romance as she takes care of business. Her ex is in the picture, but as a friend, not a lover.

Jennifer Lawrence is at her best in portraying this woman who accomplishes what she needs to get done, while others around her seem to be going through the motions of life. At the young age of 25, J-Law is more convincing as a mature woman in Joy than she is as a young warrior in the Hunger Games films.

Joy is a feel good movie for grownups. And, after the year that some of us have experienced, this upbeat story is exactly what many of us need. Big thanks to writer/Director David O. Russell and well as to Jennifer Lawrence for Joy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

American Hustle

Director David O. Russell doesn’t really have a repertory company, but all four of his lead actors in American Hustle have worked for him in either 2010’s The Fighter or 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook. They all perform at a high level in American Hustle, working from a script that gives each of the four opportunities to shine. On January 16, expect a name or two or three from this ensemble to receive Oscar noms.

The root word of con, as in con man or con game, is confidence. In American Hustle, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) gains the confidence of marks who believe that he can get them loans for 50K. But first, they have to give him negotiable checks for 5-thousand to get the ball rolling.

After Irving meets Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) at a party and discovers they share a love of Duke Ellington, they become lovers and partners in crime. Sydney joins him in his con game. She fakes a British accent and implies that she can get money from friends in high places in the UK banking world.

When the con man and woman are caught by the feds, they are enlisted to aid the FBI in scamming politicians. American Hustle is not the story of the Abscam sting, which saw politicians accepting bribes. But true-life events inform much of what happens in AH.

Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) is the agent who runs the sting and becomes enamored with Sydney. Irving’s wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) seems at first to be a shallow, unaware housewife but later is revealed to be more clever than initially revealed.

Carmen Polito (Jeremy Renner with a pompadour Conway Twitty would’ve envied) is the mayor of Camden, New Jersey who wants to help his state get the money to help develop Atlantic City. While setting him up for the sting, Irving finds that he actually likes Carmen—which makes things interesting.

Another Russell alum (who appeared in Silver Linings Playbook), Robert DeNiro, plays a Miami mobster gets involved when a fake Arab sheik is presented as the deep pockets money man. Louis CK has a small role as agent DiMaso’s boss.

American Hustle has all the elements a movie needs to succeed: a compelling story, interesting characters and a clever telling of that story. It’s not the best movie of 2013, but it will show up on numerous top ten lists for the year, as it should.

The Big Wedding

The Big Wedding is a big mess. First clue: all-star cast. Second clue: gratuitous f-bombs and a few seconds of nudity designed to clinch an R rating. Third clue: a contract required by Lionsgate, insuring that I will reveal nothing about the movie before 9:00 p.m. CDT on April 25 and will share no spoilers ever.

There are some laughs, to be sure, in The Big Wedding, though not as many as one might hope for. The set-up: Robert DeNiro and Diane Keaton are exes. Susan Sarandon is DeNiro’s girlfriend. Adopted son is about to get married. Son’s bio-mom from Colombia is strict Catholic who doesn’t believe in divorce, so son asks DeNiro and Keaton to pretend they’re still wed while bio-mom is visiting. Hey, successful film and TV comedies have been built around flimsier situations.

The bride (Amanda Seyfried), her parents, other extended family and even the priest (Robin Williams) provide additional sub-set-ups. In most cases, you can figure out exactly what’s going to happen.

Apparently Topher Grace is now out of the witness protection program or rehab or wherever he’s been. He plays DeNiro/Keaton’s son who receives a dinner table sexual favor in a scene that was much funnier eight years ago in Wedding Crashers. Katherine Heigl, whose ’09 movie The Ugly Truth similarly ramped up the raunch, rendering an R-rated romcom, plays Topher’s sad sister.

The Big Wedding provides a modest amount of amusement. It runs just 90 minutes which means, with 20 minutes of trailers beforehand, you’ll barely have time to finish that mondo-size box of Raisinets.

The cumulative star power of a movie like The Big Wedding (and various Garry Marshall holiday-related films) actually can, I believe, make such a movie more bearable. On the other hand, if you go because you particularly like one individual star in the cast, you will inevitably be disappointed because your favorite has to share his or her screen time with so many others.

And maybe the R rated content will please many who tire of formulaic PG-13 romantic comedy fare that toes the line. In a world with HBO and Showtime original content dialing up the sex/language quotient, The Big Wedding could be right on the money with its f-bombs and bare butt. But I don’t think so.

(Special note to the Lionsgate legal team vetting this review for spoilers: I’m flattered that you care! Reminder: If you were required to watch this mess, that’s 1.5 billable hours!)

 

 

Silver Linings Playbook

“Silver Linings Playbook” has it all: love, laughter, tears, mental illness, football, dancing and gambling. It more than lives up to its advance buzz. The story, the characters and the telling of the story are all compelling. Go see this movie!

Bradley Cooper plays Patrick, a man who’s just spent several months in a mental health treatment center after severely injuring his wife’s lover. For now, he’s staying with his folks. He still loves his wife but can’t see her, due to a restraining order. A friend invites him over for dinner where he meets a young widow, Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence.

Tiffany also has mental health issues. Following her husband’s death, she received therapy and medications. She and Patrick become friends and she asks him to be her partner in a dance competition.

Meanwhile, Patrick’s dad, played by Robert DeNiro, is revealed to have anger issues of his own—he’s been permanently banned from Philadelphia Eagles home games for fighting in the stands. Dad is a guy who’s lost his job and has turned to bookmaking to get by.

The interaction between these characters and others in the film will break your heart one minute and make you laugh out loud the next. David O. Russell wrote the script and directed the movie. He directed 2010’s wonderful “The Fighter,” which was notable for similar family dynamics. (“SLP” is set in suburban Philly, while “The Fighter” was set in Lowell, Massachusetts.)

The resolution of “Silver Linings Playbook” is satisfying for many reasons, which I dare not reveal here. Just go see this movie!

Sadly, a TV spot for the movie reveals one of the film’s key turning points. I hate when that happens. I encourage you to avoid any TV ads or online trailers before you see “SLP.”

“Silver Linings Playbook” is among this year’s best. Expect award nominations for Cooper and Lawrence and maybe DeNiro. Russell should get a nom for best adapted script and, possibly, best director. Best picture? It should make that list, too.